TABLE OF CONTENTS
Manuscript Collection No. 60
Raphael Lemkin was born on June 24, 1901, near Bezwodene, Poland, one of three sons of Joseph and Bella (Pomerantz) Lemkin. Lemkin was educated primarily by his mother and tutors in the liberal arts until he was fourteen, when he began studying philology at the University of Lwow in Poland. He later studied at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, while also studying in France and Italy. Lemkin spoke nine languages and was able to read fourteen.
Lemkin decided on a law career and after receiving his degree became a public prosecutor for the District Court of Poland (1929-1934). He continued as Professor of Family at Tachkimoni College, Warsaw, where he had taught from 1927. In 1929, he became the secretary of the Committee on Codification of the Laws of the Polish Republic (1929-1935).
Even as a young boy the mass murder of a group of people had upset Lemkin. The book Quo Vadis, along with the slaughter of Armenians by Turks during World War I and Christian Assyrians by Iraqis in 1933 caused Lemkin to wonder why such things were allowed to happen. In 1933 he appeared before the Legal Council of the League of Nations in Madrid with a proposal to outlaw "actions of barbarism and vandalism." His proposal was not adopted and he returned to Poland.
Dr. Lemkin's actions in Madrid were looked upon unfavorably by the Polish government which was pursuing a policy of conciliation with the new Nazi regime in Germany. He retired from public office and opened a private legal practice in Warsaw (1934-1939).
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Lemkin became a guerilla fighter against the Nazis and was wounded. After hiding in the forests for six months, he finally managed to escape to Sweden. He and his brother Elias were the only surviving members of a family containing over forty members. During 1940-1941, he was a visiting lecturer of law at the University of Sweden, Stockholm. While in Sweden, he began collecting documents concerning Nazi rule in occupied countries.
Lemkin came to the United States in 1941 with an invitation to lecture at Duke University. During the summer of 1942 he lectured at the U.S. War Department, School of Military Government at Charlottesville University, Virginia and wrote Military Government in Europe, which was a preliminary version of his more fully-developed publication, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. From 1942-1943 Professor Lemkin was chief consultant to the U.S. Board of Economic Warfare and Foreign Economic Administration. In 1944, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe was published. The book made use of the information that Lemkin had gathered while in Sweden. It this book the word "genocide" is first used. Genocide is derived from the Greek "genos" (race) and the Latin "cide" (killing) and meant the deliberate destruction of a racial, ethnic, or religious group.
Dr. Lemkin became a consultant on international law to the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army in 1945 and was appointed legal advisor to the U.S. Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials (1945-1946). Material from Axis Rule in Occupied Europe was used as one of the bases for determining the structure of the war trials program. From 1946-1947 Lemkin was an advisor on foreign affairs for the U.S. War Department.
In the meantime Lemkin continued his fight to have genocide recognized as an international crime. He hoped to have a genocide convention adopted by the Paris peace conference in 1945 but was unsuccessful. Lemkin turned to the United Nations and by arguments and persuasions managed to convince the U.N. delegates of Cuba, Panama, and India to propose a resolution making genocide a crime under international law. The resolution was unanimously passed in 1946. For the next two years Lemkin worked on the draft of the treaty. On December 9, 1948 the Genocide Convention was unanimously adopted by the U.N. It would take another two years for the convention to go into effect. On October 15, 1950 the treaty became international law. As of today, over 50 countries have ratified the Genocide Convention. Although the United States signed the treaty, it has never been ratified by Congress, as the U.S. believes the Convention would impinge on its sovereignty).
Lemkin provided financial support for his one-man campaign for the Genocide Convention by lecturing at Yale University from 1948-1951. He also taught at Rutgers University from 1955-1956 as well as at Princeton. In 1950 and 1952 he was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize. His friends and colleagues attempted to have him nominated for the Peace Prize of 1955, 1956, 1958, and 1959. He did, however, receive the Grand Cross of Cespedes from Cuba in 1950 and the Stephen Wise Award of the American Jewish Congress in 1951.
Raphael Lemkin died on August 28, 1959.
The papers of Raphael Lemkin contain material relating to his crusade for the adoption of an international law making genocide a crime as well as material on the Nuremberg trials and the Nobel Peace Prize. The collection includes correspondence, memoranda, newspaper clippings, printed material and miscellaneous material. The papers span the years between 1942 and 1959 with the bulk of the material covering the years 1948-1956.
This collection is arranged in two (2) series:
Terms of Access
The collection is open for use; no restrictions apply.
Terms of Reproduction and Use
Copyright restrictions may apply. Authorization to publish, quote, or reproduce, with exceptions for fair use, may be obtained through the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio. Please address queries to the Executive Director of the American Jewish Archives. For more information, see the American Jewish Archives copyright information webpage.
Footnotes and bibliographic references should refer to the Raphael Lemkin Papers and the American Jewish Archives. A suggestion for at least the first citation is as follows:
[Description], [Date], Box #, Folder #. MS-60. Raphael Lemkin Papers. American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Raphael Lemkin papers were donated by Robert R. Lemkin in April, 1965. In November, 1983 an additional supplement of papers were donated by Rabbi David Saperstein, Washington, D.C. All papers donated prior to December 2002 have been arranged and described in this inventory.
Processed by Kathleen McIntyre, February, 1977.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the AJA's online catalog.
Persons and Families
Lemkin, Raphael, -- 1901-1959 -- Manuscripts
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Nuremberg Trial of Major German War Criminals, Nuremberg, Germany, 1945-1946
War crime trials -- Germany